Thomas Hobbes: Injustice & Sovereign Essay, Research Paper
Political Philosophy 101: Essay 2 Aaron Lavack
?It has already been shown, that nothing the sovereign representative can do to a subject?can properly be called injustice, or injury?? [Hobbes, Leviathan] What does Hobbes mean by this? Why does he believe it?
In order to answer this question I must first examine the line of thought that led to the institution of a sovereign power. By doing so it will be easier to understand the motivations the led Hobbes to this institution. It will also be easier to understand the meaning of the above quote.
The Natural state of Humanity, according to Thomas Hobbes, is war. This state of war is essentially anarchy. ??where every man is enemy to every man?? This definition does not mean that there is always fighting, but rather that there is a period when it is known that people are willing to fight. In this state there can be no production or development of society. The life of man is, in this situation ??solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.? This is naturally not a situation that is desirable to live in. Therefore it makes sense that people would try to find a way to escape this manner of living. Hobbes speaks of the first method of attempted escape. This is basically banding together into small groups. However this banding together does not ensure a safe and prosperous environment. This is for a number of reasons. There are two that are prominent. The first is if any other of the small family type groupings gains another member then the balance of power is significantly altered. The second I shall cover once I have looked at the next obvious step in light of the first problem. This step is to gather in greater numbers. Through this the first problem is obviously solved. Should there be, as was the problem in the first example a small increase of population on one side, there is no problem. The increase in population would have to be on the same scale as that of the population?s magnitude. Such an increase is difficult to achieve and so the balance of power is maintained. The second problem is however of a different nature. This problem is fraction within the population. ?For being distracted in opinions about the best use and application of their strength, they do not help but hinder one another?? Every member of this gathering has an opinion. It goes almost without saying that these opinions would differ greatly between different people. For instance in the case of opposition from without, one group could support one means of defense while another supports another. This results in little being done as the two groups clamor over which route to follow. The natural end of this course is ineffectiveness. ??they are easily?subdued by a very few that agree together?? Not only this but their disagreement also spans into times when there is no enemy. Hobbes believes that during this time their quarrels will become even worse.
What is the solution for this problem of disunity? Hobbes suggests the erection of a common power ??to keep them in awe and direct their actions to the common benefit.? Hobbes states that this common power should be given the right to govern each person in the ?commonwealth?. This right should be given in a certain way. This, according to Hobbes, is through a covenant made by each man. ?I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that you give up your right to him and authorize all his actions in a like manner.? Once this common power, or ?sovereign? has the backing of the people then order naturally follows. This is because once everyone has submitted to him, or them in the case of a sovereign body, then he has a great deal of power. This power can easily be used to establish order . In much the same manner we exist in society today. If one of us disobeys the majority is still obeying and our dissention is quashed. So the apparent result of following these guidelines (establishment of a commonwealth) is The end of the previous state of anarchy.
Apart form the obvious result of order there are a number of other results that came form the sealing of this covenant. The one that is of most interest to us is the fourth. This is that the sovereign cannot be seen to do wrong to their subjects. There is good reason for this. Every subject has agreed to place the monarch or the governing body in the position of power. Admittedly some may have wanted another to be in that place. Hobbes takes this into account. His reply to this is that these people agreed to go by the will of the majority when the process (choosing a sovereign) began. Although the sovereign power they had hoped for was not elected they still have to go by the consensus. To do otherwise would be unjust. It would also leave them in that state of anarchy that the entire process was designed to eliminate. They would be a threat to society. As such they could, justly, be destroyed. Thus all have given authorship of their actions over to the sovereign body. Because the actions of the sovereign represent the actions of all the subjects, it follows that if a sovereign does something to a subject then it is that subject doing it to himself or herself. For instance, the sovereign ordered a house to be destroyed. The person who owned the house could not complain about the sovereign. This is because when that person agreed to have the sovereign as their ruler, they also agreed to make their actions the sovereign?s. Following this line of reasoning it makes sense to say that it was not the sovereign that destroyed the person?s house it was that person. If we look at the actions of a sovereign in this light then it becomes clear that they cannot be said to do ?injustice or injury? to their subjects. This is what ?It has already been shown, that nothing the sovereign representative can do to a subject?can properly be called injustice, or injury?? Means.
But why is it that Hobbes believes this? There are a number of reasons that can be easily deduced from the text. If you are blaming someone for something unjust then it makes sense that you would punish him or her for this action. If this injustice were serious enough then the sovereign could be put to death. If this course of action were followed then once again the subject would be back in that same state of anarchy that Hobbes speaks of in chapter 13. This is clearly not a desired result. What are the results of this anarchy? I have already mentioned a few. But some of these are in a sense the signs that a period of anarchy, or ?war? is Hobbes? words, is taking place. That there is a need or willingness to solve problems with violence is one of the signs of anarchy. The other I have mentioned is that of everyman being against every other. Anarchy also has effects. According to Hobbes, there can be no farming of the land, navigation or sea trade, building of large structures, no use of advanced transport technology, no mapping, no calendars, no arts, no writing, no society, and a ??continual fear and danger of violent death?? It is clear that none of these things are desirable.
I have already shown that Hobbes views a sovereign who rules over a large number of people as the only viable alternative to anarchy. Taking this into account it is clear when we also view the effects of anarchy that Hobbes would want to avoid anything that would interrupt the reign of the sovereign. The sovereign being incarcerated of executed for injustice to a subject would certainly qualify as such an interruption. Hobbes believes that a sovereign power cannot do injustice or injury to a subject because in his eyes this results in the fall back to anarchy.
1) Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan ~ Parts One and Two, United States of America, 1958.
2) Martin, Rex, ?Authority and Sovereignty?, in Peter Caws, eds., The Causes of Quarrel, Massachusetts, 1989.
3) Altman, Andrew, ?Glory, Respect, and Violent Conflict?, in Peter Caws, eds., The Causes of Quarrel, Massachusetts, 1989.
4) Landesman, Charles, ?Reflections on Hobbes: Anarchy and Human Nature?, in Peter Caws, eds., The Causes of Quarrel, Massachusetts, 1989.
5) Strauss, Leo, ?On the Spirit of Hobbes Political Philosophy?, in K. C. Brown, eds., Hobbes Studies, Great Britain, 1965.